Monday, August 28, 2023

Breck Epic 2023 Part 2: PARTY PARTY PARTY

Alright, so maybe it wasn't all party, but it was pretty dang fun.

Picking up where I left off, it was now time for stage three. This is the day I crashed on last time, so in the back of my head, I just wanted to finish this stage strong. There's nothing particularly crazy in terms of danger about this day, but still, I was getting in my own head. Luckily, all those feelings immediately go away when I put my leg over the bike on the start line.

The Pittsburgh (plus Ohio) singlespeed gang on Boreas Pass. One of the best memories ever.

I don't want to over-hype this stage, but to me, stage three is certainly the hardest day. I kept this in mind as we rolled out of the start line, and I did well managing my effort on the first long climb. It was mostly rideable with only a little hiking, which meant I stayed in good position going into the big climb up French Pass.

Unlike the first climb, French Pass is not very rideable. Once you read the open meadow part of the climb, it's about a 50/50 mix of walking your bike and riding it. Before long, you reach the hardest part of the climb which is entirely hiking, even for most geared riders. I saw Justin ahead of me on the hike a bike, but the air is thin at 12,000 feet and I didn't have the energy to close the gap.

At the top of the climb, I took a shot of Mezcal before continuing on my way. The descent is fairly technical, although compared to what we have in Rothrock in central Pennsylvania, it isn't too crazy. There's one steep chute that requires a little attention, but other than that, it's a fun ripper off the pass back down below tree line.

The downhill off of French Pass

To me, the hardest part of the stage is the next climb: Georgia Pass. It's a gravel road, and not particularly steep, but the combination of being extra high elevation (climbing to 12,000 feet) and being 30 minutes long really takes a toll on me. Of course, if I was just riding for fun, it might not be so bad, but trying to race hard really cranks up the pain. I vividly remember back in 2021 suffering up this climb, and 2023 was no different. 

The pay-off for the miserable climb, however, is an awesome technical descent on the Colorado Trail. I'll admit, it's actually pretty technical even compared to trails in Rothrock, and it's definitely one of the most fun descents of the week. Since I'm used to rocks, I was able to ride hard and pass a few people on the way down.

After the descent was another long slog of a climb, but since it was lower elevation it wasn't quite as bad. The rest of the stage sort of blends together to me, but being in Breckenridge, there's no such thing as a bad trail. When we got to the section I crashed on last time, a dirt road with big water bars on it, I took it extremely slow (well, not that slow, but slow compared to my other descents) and safe. It worked, I didn't crash, and I finished the stage once again in second place. The GC standings for singlespeed were now seeming a little more solid: Justin was about 10 minutes ahead of me in first, and I had a lead over Josh in 3rd.

Stage Four is Aqueduct, and to a lot of my friends, an unpleasant day. Well, maybe not unpleasant, but just not their favorite. After doing the stage, I have to say it far exceeded my expectations. There was some brutality - like Vomit Hill - but for the most part, the stage was pretty rideable and very scenic. 

The crux of the day was a looooong climb that I thought was going to be a boring gravel road the whole way. After a couple miles of gravel, and chatting with some of the awesome pro women who I saw on the climb, the route turned off onto a rough doubletrack. I was extremely happy, to say the least, and the rest of the climb flew by. I felt great, the doubletrack was great, and the views were great. It was all great. 

The climb would've been reward enough for me, but the next downhill was the icing on the cake. It was a high speed blaster - my Garmin says I hit 29mph several times on the straightaway sections of singletrack - and I've rarely had more fun on a bicycle than I had on that descent. Sometimes the combination of being in a race, being tired, and seeing amazing views combine and I get a euphoric feeling. This descent was one of them, for sure.

The rest of the stage went by fairly quickly and without much to note, and once again, I finished the day close behind Justin. 


Going into stage five, Wheeler Pass, the singlespeed GC standings were pretty much settled. I just had to not crash in order to hang onto 2nd, and barring a miracle, I wasn't going to gain 14 minutes on Jutstin.

Unlike other stages, Wheeler Pass is a wave-start, with groups of 10 riders going off together based on the previous day's finishing time. Luckily for me, I finished only 90 seconds behind Justin on stage four, so I was able to start with Justin on stage five.

We were the third wave to go off, and when we started, Justin and I immediately sprinted to the front of  our group. The first trail of the day, Burro Trail, was all rideable for singlespeed, so Justin and I rode hard on that trail and passed quite a few people. 

Before long, we reached the hike-a-bike, which was no ordinary hike-a-bike. It was going to be over 1,200 feet of hiking, all the way up to Wheeler Pass at over 12,500 feet. It was nice to still be with Justin, and since neither of us could really attack on the hike, we just hiked together at a brisk pace and chatted along the way.

Eventually, after lots of lots of pushing our bikes - and a little riding after the first false summit - we reached Wheeler Pass and the fireball shots. Cosmo Cummens saw me approaching, and he immediately called out to me: "Hamburgers!"

I smiled and pointed to him, before grabbing the shot of fireball. It looked a little small, so I had the other guy dump another shot in for me. Perfect. Another guy came running over to offer me a shot of beer, which I also took, and then I was on my way. Justin kindly waited for me and took a video of the whole situation, which was pretty cool.

Cosmo with the fireball hand-up!

The next few miles of riding are stunning. Without a doubt, it's my favorite section of the Breck Epic race. The first downhill off of Wheeler Pass is chunky, scenic, and ear-to-ear smiling the whole time. The nice warm feeling from the fireball shots boosted the mood even more.

Before long, we were on to the second major climb for the day: the hike up to Mount Gawddamnit. It was aptly named by none other than Dicky many years ago, at least according to legend, and as the name suggests, it's pretty difficult.

Since Justin and I were still together, and since neither of us could really make an attack on that section of trail, we dialed back the pace a little bit and just cruised along the alpine trails. It's not like we were going super easy, but we weren't exactly blasting. Honestly, that was fine by me, because attacking on a hike-a-bike is pretty futile, especially since it seemed like Justin was pretty fast at hiking.

The climb actually went by pretty fast, and before long we were at the top of the biggest descent of the week. Starting at 12,500 feet, this descent was bound to be gnarly. The terrain above the tree line is rugged, rocky, and unforgiving, and as fun as it is, it poses a lot of risk. I knew Justin is a great descender, so I knew it was going to be a fast descent. He asked me how comfortable I was with nose pivots around switchbacks, which definitely set the expectations for what the descent would be like.

Sure enough, the descent was the most fun and most technical descent all week. There were tons of tons, tons of high speed sections, and tons of loose turns. Being above tree line meant there was some exposure, and the difficulty of having to pass people on the way down made it all the more exciting. Luckily, I was able to keep up with Justin the whole way down, and we flew past the aid station at the bottom still together. 

Going past aid two with Justin

With only one more trail left - Peaks Trail - I just wanted to hold on to Justin and not lose any more time. I didn't have the energy to put in an attack on the trail, so we both sort of decided to ride together to the finish. We had some good conversation, ripped some fun trail, and finished stage five just as we had ridden the entire stage: together.

After five days, I was now still 14 minutes behind Justin. The last day was the party day for the singlespeeders, and since making up 14 minutes on that relatively easy stage was near impossible, I decided to have fun and party. 

Start of stage six

Preparation for stage six was a little different than other stages. I brought along a nice cocktail of Flow Formulas and Tito's in one of my bottles, and brought my phone along for a change to have some music  while riding. Us singlespeeders rearranged our start waves to all start together, which meant me, Dahn, Montana, Josh, and Blaine all started together. We saw the the SSer, Taylor, at the start line, and he told us he'd see us out on the course.

The party began right from the start. Montana had music playing on his speaker and we party-paced it up the first climb. It was a really fun way to end the week of racing, and I was glad I joined my friends on the last day.

I don't take selfies often, but when I do it's with great friends and great views

When we reached the aid station at the top of Boreas Pass, we all chugged a PBR before continuing on our way. Dahn, of course, substituted that for some fireball, he doesn't do beer. Sad.

The Gold Dust downhill was fun, and made even more fun by the beer and Flow Formulas cocktail. I think I paid the price for the partying a little bit on the next climb, but it was worth it, and I made it back up to Boreas Pass for aid station two. We all had another PBR before making the final push to the finish, which was all downhill. Josh was battling in the enduro competition, so he set off to rip the downhill while the rest of us finished our beers.

Just some singlespeeders on Boreas Pass

The downhill was pretty difficult for me, what with some brain haze and all, but it was so incredibly fun that it didn't really matter. I think I was laughing for most of the downhill, and I can hardly think of a time when I had more fun. I made a sketchy (for me) pass on Dahn, and I cruised across the finish line in 3rd. I didn't really care about the results, but I still sort of wanted to at least get 3rd for the day, so that was nice.

At the finish line, I had a few more celebration drinks and cheered on the rest of our friends. Colleen held onto 3rd place in 30+ women for the week, which was awesome!

Montana spraying water on me

Now that stage six was over, stage seven was about to begin. What is stage seven, you ask? It's a party, with all the things you'd expect a party to have. It sure would be exciting to write a lot of details about it, but to be honest, what happens in stage 7 stays in stage 7. I'll keep it brief.

The final podium (L to R: me, Justin, Josh, Dahn)

We went to the banquet, had some drinks, went to the "official" Breck Epic party in the hotel, had some drinks, and then went off to the Goldpan bar in downtown Breckenridge to have some more drinks. Montana was chasing me and throwing pinecones at me all the way to the Goldpan. It was a good night. I made it back to the AirBNB eventually, which was a success, and got a solid hour or two of sleep in before packing up and leaving the next morning.

The drive home was as expected, although getting a bonus hotel stay with Rob, Chrissy, and Montana in Columbia Missouri on the way home was certainly nicer than sweating in my car all night at a rest stop. I've done that drive enough times now that there aren't many surprises, you just keep driving and driving and driving until you get home. It's a little boring, but it's an easy drive. 

I'd say Breck Epic 2023 was a big success. I'm really happy with 2nd place singlespeed, and getting the belt buckle after missing it in 2021 was a huge relief to me. Are there things I'd do differently in the race? Looking back, I honestly can't think of many. It was all great. Spending a week with cool friends racing cool trails in a cool area is cool. It's all cool, you know?

Walking into the Goldpan

No comments:

Post a Comment